Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold says his visit to the Church of Nigeria January 15-23 'exceeded any expectations I might have had' and called the trip 'an incredible gift' of insight into the challenges faced by Nigerian Anglicans.
Griswold, his wife Phoebe, and four Church Center staff members spent nine days touring the three provinces of the largest church body in the Anglican Communion, and Griswold held a retreat for the Church of Nigeria's House of Bishops.
Cities visited by the Griswold party included Abuja, Bida, Wuse, Enugu, Enugu-Ukwu, Onitsha, and Lagos.
Mixed feelings dispelled
Conducting the retreat involved some risk-taking, Griswold said, for himself as well as the Nigerian bishops. 'I think there was some fear that I was coming with an agenda,' he said, 'and I didn't know if my experience of Christ would speak to them.' Nigerian Anglicans, most with strong evangelical roots, have been 'formed by a different spirituality and sacramentality' than the Anglo-Catholic Griswold. But by the end of the retreat they regarded each other with 'deep affection.'
He said some of the bishops were surprised at his response to a question about women's ordination. 'I told them that 'you have your own cultural context and I would not presume to dictate'' to the Nigerian church about how to proceed on such issues, he said.
The retreat was held in the IBRU Retreat Center in Aghara-Otor in Delta State. The Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, introduced his guest and his entourage to his brother bishops. He said that Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, Griswold and himself were in the same study group during the 2001 Primates' Retreat in Kanuga. It was then, he said, that he had the opportunity of a close encounter with Griswold and came to the conclusion that he was 'a godly man, a man of deep piety and spirituality.'
Akinola said he knew that participants in the retreat may have mixed feelings about their guest and the church he leads back in the United States, but was optimistic all such reservations would be dispelled by the time the retreat came to an end.
Smiles from the heart
Bishop Peter Adebiyi, secretary for the Church of Nigeria, gave a positive assessment of the retreat led by Griswold. 'When the news came that he was coming to lead the retreat, it was [received] with mixed feelings because of the situation in America, with the kind of teaching in the churches there,' Adebiyi stated. 'People were not eager to receive him. In fact, there was a division in the House of Bishops.
'But since he arrived, it looks as if he is a different person entirely. The meditations he led were really perfect, enriching, down to earth, spiritual. So, with that, lots of people [bishops] have had a second opinion about him. The meditations were very good and we really enjoyed them.'
Phoebe Griswold added it was remarkable that all the women's groups she met with in Nigeria displayed generous love and hospitality. 'You smile from your heart!' she exclaimed at one point on the journey. She said she hoped her visit to Nigeria would 'open her heart' and that she would take the same love back to the women of the Episcopal Church.